Victorian Era Feminism: Confined and Demeaned
Imagine living in a world completely dominated by men. Imagine, just because of her sex, a woman is left powerless. Worst of all, imagine living a life of confinement, forced to be controlled by men with no chance of escape. Victorian women in nineteenth-century England lived this life. They had no respect, they had no power, and they had no freedom. In Charlotte Brontë’s, Jane Eyre, confinement of women is portrayed as the yearning to find the key to escape their red-rooms or attics. Through the characters of Mrs. Reed, Bertha Mason, and Jane Eyre, the typical Victorian women is shown along with their struggles to accept it.
Besides her husband, a woman’s position in the Victorian sexual hierarchy was defined by her purity, self-control, and femininity. In order to be the “pure” woman every woman strived to be, she had to inherit four key traits: piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity (“Influence”). A Victorian woman was incapable of being considered pure without these qualities. Self-control was a trait a woman must have in order to maintain a suitable position on the hierarchy. Without self-control, women were labeled as mad or insane and sent to an asylum. Because of the consequences of lashing out, being quiet was the only way women could survive the Victorian sexual hierarchy (Anderson). Lastly, a Victorian woman must have value, and a Victorian woman’s value was seen mainly in her femininity. In order to be the ideal woman, she must be a wife and mother because those were the highest callings of a woman.
Victorian women were separated into upper classes, middle classes, and under or working classes. Upper-class Victorian women had many more servants and help than lower classes, along with a better living situation, but they were still lonely and mistreated. The upper-class women rarely left their houses, and were not permitted to associate with the lower classes. They had a strict set of rules they must follow including their outward appearance and social behavior. As part of becoming a lady, a woman of the upper-class was educated, which signified her availability for marriage. The courtship rules varied based on the classes, but women did not have a choice about whom they married. Moving down the hierarchical structure, most middle-class households had just one servant. Having a servant was sufficient enough to give the woman of the house a certain status, but insufficient to allow her to spend days doing embroidery and playing the piano. She, too, had to work. Middle-class women did all the cleaning work because the men provided the income in a middle-class household. Unlike the upper classes, middle-class women of the Victorian era left their homes to visit the poor, or the working class. The working class, in contrast, had poor living and working conditions. Also, the women followed no rules of courtship so they were viewed as impure or morally wrong. Besides the women’s bad reputations, they had very little chance for an education, thereby making it impossible to become a “lady.”Ultimately, the upper class did little to no work, the middle class performed clean work, and the working class did the most physical labor (Abrams).
The women of the Victorian era were not respected and were completely dominated by men. In fact, their own husbands did not respect them. If only his wife were good and pure enough by his standards, he would not seek out prostitutes or the company of drinkers and gamblers (“Influence”). Wives were often just a status symbol to their husbands; they were used as an outward proof of a man’s economic success. Overall, women were treated as property. They had no rights to divorce abusive husbands, or to gain custody of their children if a man decided to divorce them (Swisher). Basically, women of the nineteenth-century had little to no control over their fate; men dominated them in every aspect of life. Women were also frequently...
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